UK to launch landmark Covid antibody testing scheme

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The data will shape Britain’s ongoing response to the virus and shed light on how variants respond to different vaccines.

From Tuesday, anyone aged over 18 will be able to opt-in to take part in the research when booking a PCR test through NHS Test and Trace. Up to 8,000 volunteers who receive a positive result will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back for laboratory analysis.

The department of Health and Social Care says it will be the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public, and the scheme could also provide insight into any groups of people who do not develop an immune response.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our new national antibody testing will be quick and easy to take part in, and by doing so you’ll be helping strengthen our understanding of Covid-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life. I’m proud to see all parts of the UK uniting around this new initiative and working together to arm ourselves with even more valuable insights into how COVID-19 vaccines are protecting people up and down the UK.

“Our phenomenal vaccination programme continues to build a massive wall of defence across the country – already preventing around 24 million infections and more than 100,000 deaths in England alone. I urge everyone across the UK to get both vaccinations as soon as possible.”

People participating in the research must take their first antibody test as soon as possible after receiving a positive PCR result, before the body has time to generate a “detectable antibody response to the current infection”.

The first test will determine the level of antibodies a person had before their current infection. The second test, which should be taken 28 days after testing positive, will measure antibodies generated in response to the infection. 

By comparing the two results, researchers will be able to see how vaccinated people boost their immunity when infected – and how this might vary when they catch different variants.

The Government insists that testing positive for antibodies does not mean someone is immune from Covid-19, and stresses that people must continue to follow the rules.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK National Health Security Agency, said: “We are rolling out antibody testing across the UK to gain vital data into the impact of our vaccination programme and on immune responses to different variants of Covid-19. This has been made possible thanks to the incredible British public who continue to come forward for testing when they develop symptoms and the millions of people who have had their jabs.

 “The best way to protect yourself and those around you is by getting vaccinated.  I encourage anyone who has not yet come forward to book their first and second jabs.”

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